City’s only known Centurion, Arul Navam David, shows how to lead a happy and cheerful life ever after

Six months ago, the family started planning for the big day on January 4.

About 250 of them were getting together for the first time from all over the globe to celebrate the 100th birthday of Arul Navam David, mother to four of her (out of seven) living children, grand mother to 16 children, great grandmother to 23 children, besides an aunt/grand aunt/great grand aunt to many others.

And just on new year eve, she fell off the bed, hit her forehead on a side table and bled. Yet, she refused to be taken to a doctor fearing that she may end up spoiling the party.

With sheer mental strength she fought back and was all smiles last Tuesday to join in the celebration. She remembered each relative by name. The Pastor of the Christ Church in Karimedu, where she has been living for past seven decades, allowed a private birthday party inside for the first time. Besides prayers and special meal, a cake weighing five kilos and in the shape of The Holy Bible was cut amid lot of cheer, singing and reminiscences.

I met ‘Arul aachi” a week later. The injury mark still intact on her forehead and clad in a light golden yellow saree, she was all full of life and toothless smiles. My first impression, she doesn’t look 100 years old at all! Her skin less wrinkled than I had imagined and her pate bore more hair than mine.

She instantly replied: “It’s God’s grace.” And diet?, I enquired. “Minimum -- one or two idlis or few spoons of over-cooked rice or oats and few pieces of fish,” Aachi spoke out in loud and crystal clear voice.

Slightly hard of hearing and little bent with age, till two years ago, she insisted on doing everything on her own. On her last birthday, she suffered indigestion after consuming quite a bit of the creamy cake. “First time I saw her visit a doctor,” says her grand daughter, Hema, teaching at Velammal School.

So, this birthday, Aachi decided to feed the cake to others. “She is very alert and has a good sense of humour,” says her daughter-in-law who has been with her for last 40 years.

“She never scolds us. She is very kind and caring. She tells us to read the Bible daily to be in good in everything. She gives me and my brother pocket money each day before we leave for school,” chips in her 14 year old great grand daughter, Sherley.

Without waiting for a question, Aachi informs when she retired as maternity Assistant from Government Rajaji Hospital in 1966, her last drawn monthly salary was Rs.200. Today, she gets a pension of Rs.4,000 a month and feels empowered.

It is Arul Navam’s confidence and will power that is talked about in her family. For a simple girl from an obscure village in Ramnad, studied up to class VIII, married at 16 and widowed at 27 with seven children, she took on life and its challenges with a grit and determination quite unusual.

“My sole aim was to raise all my children with good education,” she says. After her husband, William David’s sudden death, she underwent maternity training course and worked in various Government health centres and hospitals in Ramnad and Chettinad.

“I was posted in centres which were in the middle of forests with snakes crawling all over on the floor,” she recalls. “I used to fight with doctors and advocate normal delivery. The good wishes of all the young happy mothers enabled me to live on for my children.”

When she moved to Madurai and bought the 1,200 sq ft size house in Karimedu in 1940 for Rs.2,000, the owner came to meet her. “Seeing me alone with seven children, he returned Rs.1,000 and asked me to get water and power connection to the house with that money so that I or my children did not have to go out to fetch water from the area hand pump.”

Having tenaciously outlived her parents, spouse, two sons and a daughter, Arul Navam remains mentally and spiritually active. Even now, every Sunday she goes to the Church and wakes up daily at 4 a.m. to read The Bible. “She actually sings it aloud that we all wake up,” say her great grand children.

Accept change, don’t criticize, pray daily and take care of your health by eating less --- Aachi shares her secret and one can’t help thinking what a glorious innings it has been for her.

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to somabasu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)